First of all, take a deep breath. While you might be scurrying now to make decisions and get the messages out, helping your team navigate the coronavirus outbreak is not going to be a one-and-done communication event. This is an emerging issue with details that change daily. You’ll be keeping your workforce informed about the topic for weeks, if not months. It’s important to stay thoughtful and persistent.
The bare, but critical, minimum
Start with the simple stuff. (Wash your hands, etc.) I know the media and health organizations are covering the basic points, but your workforce needs to hear them from you, too. So repeat them. Put up signs and infographics. Stay on top of the adjustments to the messages so you don’t give out-of-date information.
Don’t go without a plan
Once you have that covered, take a step back and think more thoughtfully about what you need to keep communicating to your workforce. How can you stay on top of the message? What can you do to keep employees listening, following directions, and staying engaged?
Workforce Communication uses a science of connection model for developing and executing a communication strategy that will work. It leverages behavioral economics, neuroscience, and leadership and influence science.
- Capture attention – Share what your people need to know with a sense of urgency and in a calm voice. Then, repeat and update your message regularly.
- Craft messages that resonate – First, address the issues that worry employees most — health and safety, pay and benefits, the impact of being at work or not. Then, talk about changing policies and procedures.
- Elicit emotion – Make sure employees hear that the company is concerned about their wellbeing and acknowledges their fears. Be kind and sensitive in your messaging. Build trust and confidence by demonstrating responsiveness and transparency.
- Explain with logic – We need to stick to the facts and appeal to the rational part of the audience’s brain. And be sure you can back up your points. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the governing health department, and your executive team are good sources. Don’t give opinions, get political or criticize.
- Equip influencers – Prepare executives and frontline managers. Communicate with them first and twice as often as you do with employees. Give them tools such as talking points, FAQs, and situational response protocols. Caution them about the dos and don’ts of talking to employees about their situations and concerns while staying out of trouble with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and negotiated contracts.
- Prompt action – Make it easy for employees to take action. Be clear and provide the most critical information, then tell them where to go for more.
The best advice
Above all, don’t be silent. As cliché as it sounds: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Your workforce needs to hear from you — and they want to hear from you. Tell them what you know, what they need to do, and how they will be affected.
If you keep these things in mind, you’ll stay ahead of this bug in the hearts and minds of your workforce — your most important audience.
Laurie Barnes is a co-founder of Workforce Communication. With more than 30 years in the biz, Laurie is a successful communication executive who is known for out-of-the-box thinking. She has held leadership positions at three large, global consultancies — Willis Towers Watson, Deloitte, and Mercer. In 2010, Laurie formed Maple Tree Lab, a communication boutique. At Workforce Communication, she serves as a talent leader inside the firm and a creative strategist for clients.